The Theology of Karl Barth

Jim Cassidy speaks about the basic contours of Karl Barth’s theology. Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism, edited by Bruce L. McCormack and Clifford B. Anderson, is a recent contribution to this growing body of scholarship. The volume is compiled from contributions to a 2007 conference sponsored by The Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary and The Karl Barth Society of North America. In this episode, Jim helpfully describes the theology of Karl Barth, this incredibly significant figure.

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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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Geoff Willour

8 years ago

Thanks, Jim, for an excellent and enlightening discussion of Karl Barth’s theology. Not being well read on Barth and Barthianism, I found it very informative.

Just wondering: I know that Barth was reacting against the classical liberal theology of his day. But couldn’t it be said that Barth’s theology shares with liberalism its gnostic-leaning tendency? For example, as you know, liberal theology tends to make a sharp distinction between history and theology, and thus between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith.” A wedge is driven between the actual historical person of the man Jesus of Nazareth and the church’s dogma of the supernatural “cosmic Christ” (the “Christ of faith”). Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that Barth, in essence, does the same thing when he conceives God’s “revelation” in Christ as being inaccessible to man in history, and as taking place in the Divine transcendent realm and in “God’s timing” (whatever that might mean). Am I correct in this assessment, or am I missing some important nuances to Barth’s thinking?

Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Geoff,

You are SPOT on!

Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Geoff, that is SPOT on!

Curtis

8 years ago

Greetings.

Good show. Ligonier has an old free video series on line with John Gerstner teaching church history. In this one on neo orthodoxy he talks on Barth. He says he wouldn’t let Barth teach a SS class in his church but believed that Barth and even his son are in heaven…etc., etc..

http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/handout-church-history/20th-century-neo-orthodoxy/

Also, thanks for the special price on Beales new book on Facebook.
How about a special price on a TDOT set : )

CM

Kevin Davis

8 years ago

I commend Jim’s largely irenic approach to interpreting Barth from within classical Reformed convictions.

Though, I’m not convinced Jim is right in saying that new Princeton (McCormack, Hunsinger, etc.) are trying to make Barth palatable to American evangelicals. After all, McCormack has done more than anyone to emphasize Barth’s radical critique of analogy and the continuity of this critique from his Romans commentary to his CD. But, this doesn’t make Barth anti-metaphysical. Properly speaking, Barth is against an autonomous philosophical metaphysics. His use of act-ontology is an attempt to formulate a uniquely evangelical metaphysics as opposed to the reigning philosophical metaphysics, whether classical or modern.

And what is Barth’s source for this evangelical metaphysics: Scripture and Scripture alone. It’s a massive disservice to Barth to minimize his standing as a biblical theologian. His turn against liberalism had nothing to do with Kant or Hegel or Kierkegaard; it arose from his exegesis of Scripture in his pastorate at Safenwil, from which his Romerbrief arose. And what did Barth do immediately after Der Romerbrief? He developed an extensive series of lectures on Calvin, Zwingli, and the Reformed confessions. From the very beginning, Barth is a biblical and confessional theologian, which is why his CD includes massive excurses on the Bible and confessional theology: Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic. This, of course, doesn’t mean that he’s the sort of biblical and confessional theologian that we would recognize as traditionally Reformed, but it does make him biblical and confessional nonetheless, not existential or philosophical. This can’t be emphasized enough, which is why Van Til was fundamentally off target in his criticisms of Barth. There are reasons for disagreeing with Barth, but they are biblical and exegetical reasons.

For example, if you disagree with Barth’s universalism, don’t bring-up Hegel! Go to his 50-page excursus on Judas in CD II.2. Hegel has nothing to do with it. It was always about exegesis for Barth.

John Stebbe

8 years ago

Thanks, Jim and Camden, for a very interesting program.

Jim, I appreciated most the last few minutes of the program, when you laid out Van Til’s (and your own) criticisms of Barth. You said that orthodox Christians should criticize Barth on a deeper level than singling out this or that doctrine, and you said that Van Til had done this. You said that the biggest problem we should have with Barth is his doctrine of scripture. A belief in the doctrine of inerrancy would seem to be a prerequisite to understanding Biblical doctrines. You said that without this doctrine (I don’t recall if you used the word ‘inerrancy’ but I understood you to mean that), the ‘would-be theologian’ places himself above scripture, rather than taking his proper place below it.

Is it an oversimplification to say that Barth’s faulty doctrine of Scripture led to his other errors?

I have often heard that Barth said, “To err is human.” And from there, he concluded that the Bible must have errors because it is a human document. Is this a correct way of understanding Barth’s view of Scripture?

In the first section of the program, Jim, when you were attempting to explain Barth’s theology without using technical terms or theological jargon, I could feel you struggling. Perhaps your struggle is because Barth often makes no sense, at least to me. What does it mean that the only reality is ‘act?’ It seems that when Scripture is not your ultimate guide, you can make up terms or concepts, and call them ‘true’ on philosophical grounds.

I appreciated your comments about the Christology of Charles Hodge. You said that when you began to study Hodge’s Christology, you expected to find a proof text here or there, followed by a long philosophical treatise. But you were pleased to find that Hodge based his Christology on the New Testament. It does seem to me that being familiar with the Bible is more useful for a Christian than to be conversant with philosophical schools and movements of the present and past. I read an article a few years ago by Wolfhart Pannenberg in which Pannenberg described his view of death and the afterlife. The introduction to the article mentioned five or six philosophical movements of which Pannenberg was part. I was impressed. As I read the article, I noticed that Pannenberg used Scripture only very sparingly, if at all. It was as if he was saying to his lay readers, “You may still need the training wheels of the Bible, but when you’re really mature in the faith, you’ll see that philosophy is where it’s at.” I think Scripture is where it’s at, and I thank you, Camden and Jim, for pointing us in the direction of the Word of God as our doctrinal authority.

Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for your feedback. Here is a quote from McCormack, with which I agree fully:

“The fact that Barth devoted so many pages of his writings…to criticizing neo-Protestant theology tended to conceal the extent to which his antimetaphysical stance was itself a distinctly modern option in theology. My own contribution to the European discussion of Barth’s relation to modernity was to demonstrate the extent to which Kant and the later Marburg neo-Kantianism influenced not only his earliest “liberal” theology…but also decisively stamped his dialectical theology” McCormack, Orthodox and Modern, 12.

I think your way of thinking here is somewhat confused by your ambiguous use of the word “evangelical”. Barth is not an evangelical in the way you seem to be using the term here. This is especially the case with his understanding of Scripture. Scripture is not the revelation of God and thus does not provide the first and last basis upon which we ground our theology. That prerogative belongs to God’s act in Jesus Christ and him alone.

John, I don’t think that it is an oversimplification to say that the Doctrine of Scripture is the beginning of all of Barth’s doctrinal woes. You are correct, for Barth to err is to be human. For Christianity, however, it is not human to err. To be human is to be holy, righteous, and have knowledge of God. Sin is the problem. But because there is no direct revelation of God in Barth’s theology he is caught up in a rational-irrational dialectic whereby he must form a theology on something other than a “more sure Word” (2 Peter 2), the Bible.

Kevin Davis

8 years ago

Jim,

McCormack’s reading of Barth is not the only one on the table. I know John Webster at Aberdeen would challenge it (not entirely, of course, since no one disputes that Barth utilized, intentionally, the language and categories of German Idealism). Thomas Torrance, rest in peace, would certainly challenge it as well. There’s a distinction between utilizing a philosophy as a means of communication and utilizing a philosophy as a canon of authority. The former is impossible to avoid, as Barth himself clearly explains in CD I.1, but the latter is precisely what Barth attempted to avoid, more thoroughly and self-consciously than any other theologian in the Church’s history. I say “attempted,” because it may very well be the case that it is impossible to entirely avoid this, but McCormack goes further and claims that Barth was fundamentally oriented toward a Kantian anti-metaphysics that systematically determined the entirety of his dogmatics! That’s where I must raise my protest, and I’m far from alone.

As for “evangelical,” I was just using it in the classical Protestant sense of the term — the sense that Barth himself uses it — and not in the pietist American sense. Barth’s metaphysics is rooted in God’s transcendence, namely the pre-existent Christ who grounds both creation and covenant. Hence, Barth focuses on God’s act in Christ, not something inert and accessible to autonomous rational man. That’s what his act-ontology was all about — it has nothing to do with the noumena not being accessible on philosophical grounds. Any metaphysics must come in the form of act because we are sinners and haters of God, not because we are constitutionally prohibited (a la Kant). Barth is getting this from his reading of Romans 1, not because of Idealism.

As for Barth’s treatment of Scripture, you’re partly right. Scripture may not be the revelation of God for Barth, but it is certainly “the first and last basis upon which we ground our theology” for Barth. Scripture and Scripture alone is finally authoritative, and it is the only means for the Church’s reception of revelation. The Church doesn’t have access to Christ (and his covenant work in Israel) apart from Holy Scripture.

Once again, Jim, I really appreciate the way you are treating Barth with respect, and I encourage you to continue with Barth. He’s a wonderful theologian to dialogue with. I don’t agree with everything in Barth. Actually, I could sign the Canons of Dort without objection! But, my disagreements with Barth are exegetical, and that’s it. That’s treating Barth as he should be treated. Van Til was wrong; McCormack is far better but still wrong. Read Barth on his own terms and see what happens.

Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Hi Kevin,

Thank you for your continual interaction on this.

I think what I want to say is that it is precisely in Barth’s rejection of Scripture as the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word-revelation of God that Barth does begin on philosophical grounds. And he does so in such a way which is more than merely using philosophical language. It is structurally embedded in his thought. In other words, to deny God’s direct revelation IS to begin with a Kantian view of ontology and, therefore, epistemology. Furthermore, remember Barth’s threefold notion of the Word of God. The Bible, together with the church’s proclamation, form the fallible witness to the Revelation of God in the event of Jesus Christ. In this way God remains unknown. And so does Jesus Christ. This produces the inevitable rational-irrational dialectic in Barth’s structure of thought. In other words, Barth is a thorough-going modern theologian. Please don’t try to fit him in a pre-modern mold. He doesn’t fit there.

John Stebbe

8 years ago

Kevin, on the one hand, you say,

“Scripture may not be the revelation of God for Barth . . .”

And then on the other hand, you say, “. . .but it is certainly ‘the first and last basis upon which we ground our theology’ for Barth. Scripture and Scripture alone is finally authoritative, and it is the only means for the Church’s reception of revelation. The Church doesn’t have access to Christ (and his covenant work in Israel) apart from Holy Scripture.

If Scripture is not the revelation of God, then I don’t see how we can ground our theology on it. How can it be ‘finally authoritative’ if is it not the revelation of God?

Kevin Davis

8 years ago

Jim,

I enjoy this interaction as well. Just a quick reply: You are right about not fitting Barth into a pre-modern mold. I actually agree that his rejection of analogy is basically Kantian, but Barth was convinced of this, not because of Kant’s arguments, but because of Romans 1 et al.. Yes, Barth was reared in German Idealism, which gave him the conceptual tools he used throughout his career, but his “wholly other” God was pressed upon him by the prophets and the apostles. The categories of Idealism made a fortuitous ally in his cause, though they were severely limited. The same can be said of Augustine’s use of Platonism, Thomas’ use of Aristotle, even Calvin is heavily Greek in his conceptual apparatus (as was the entire Christian dogmatic tradition before him and after him), and the Protestant scholastics were more than happy to use non-biblical (Greek) categories to further refine their thought. Once again, Barth recognized (in CD I.1) that this is unavoidable and necessary.

The greater difficulty is whether an inerrant Scripture is necessary for Barth to achieve his goals. Does a fallible Scripture inevitably get supplemented (or supplanted) by other authorities — other philosophies? That has been the trend, for sure, though I think Barth avoids it (per my arguments above). To answer the question, I don’t think that there is a necessary correlation; rather, sinful man will just invariably “take advantage,” so to speak, of a fallible Scripture, supplementing or supplanting it. Yet, I actually don’t deny inerrancy. I hold to inerrancy on other grounds, exegetical and dogmatic.

John,

Yeah, sorry, I didn’t clarify because I’m presupposing a familiarity with Barth. As Jim knows, Barth believed that the Bible “becomes” the word of God under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. These writings are sanctified (set apart) and used by God for the creation of his Church (i.e., the making of disciples under the lordship of Christ). Barth was confident that God did not need an inerrant Scripture to do this task, and there’s a certain lack of faith on our part to suppose that it is necessary. I don’t actually agree with that, but when Wayne Grudem puts inerrancy at the top of his systematic theology (as a necessary foundation for all that follows) then I think Barth’s point has some merit.

John Stebbe

8 years ago

Kevin, I am no expert on Barth, but I am familiar enough with neo-orthodoxy (and I know Barth did not like that term) to understand that the Bible ‘becomes’ the Word of God as the Christian interacts with it, with the help of the Holy Spirit. This sort of thinking has always struck me as wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too. In the neo-orthodox view of Scripture, you can have a Bible filled with errors, and so not be shunned by the academy. At the same time you can have a Bible which is the Word of God, albeit temporarily, and so not be shunned by your Bible-believing lay friends.

I think such a double-minded view of Scripture leads to what Jim has described as the “inevitable rational-irrational dialectic.”

Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Hi Kevin,

Thanks again for your cordial interaction.

The problem with Barth is not that he rejected the analogia entis. So did many Protestants before him. In fact, so did Van Til (and, so do I!). The problem is that because of his modern commitments, the creator and the creature not only do not meet at any point, but they cannot meet at any point. There can be no direct revelation of God to man. Revelation then must take place as an act, not a meeting of natures of substances. And that act is the event of Jesus Christ. In Christ, then, God and Man are radically redefined along actualistic lines. The trouble is, we are still rendered separate from Jesus Christ. The best we can hope for is a witness to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. But Jesus Christ is himself inaccessible to us. We can be pointed to Christ in the Bible. But since the Bible is fallible, there is no way to know for sure if what the Bible says and what actually corresponds to what it says in history is true. And for Barth, what actually happened in the past is of little to no ultimate significance. This is his nominalism. So, what really matters is that God is revealed and known already in the event of Jesus Christ, quite independent of us here and now. In other words, the giving and receiving of revelation does not depend upon me believing it here and now. That is because it is already – and always – an event which transcends our time in the third time – God’s time for us – in Jesus Christ. This, of course, is his realism. A realism which yields – ironically enough – a new and actualized analogia entis.

Kevin Davis

8 years ago

That may be true if by some mere happenstance the Bible accurately points to Christ, as if the Bible were just accidentally accurate at times! That, of course, would mean that God is not providentially in control of his creation and covenant purposes, that God is not omnicausal (which is actually Barth’s term he uses against the Arminians and Jesuits). This may be the impression that one gets from the first volume of his CD (the veiling of God in his unveiling, and such), but that scarcely holds when read in combination with his doctrines of creation, election, and redemption (the rest of the CD). This is a good example of why some have suggested (Hunsinger or Gunton, I can’t remember) that we should read the CD backwards, beginning with volume 4. The highly obtuse and theoretical first volume is actually given flesh in the subsequent three volumes, clarifying that the positive (creation-affirming) side of his dialectic is really triumphant. This is also where it’s clear that Barth does in fact care that what happened in the past actually happened (certainly with Christ). This history, unlike secular history, doesn’t come under our (historical-critical) control; thus, apologetics is futile. Yet, this history did happen or else our faith is merely subjectively “true” (the sort of Feuerbach-style existentialism that Barth abhorred). Why else would Barth even care to defend something like the Virgin Birth of Christ? He actually believed that Christ was born of a virgin! It makes no sense to say that Barth was indifferent to such historical claims. Jim, your interpretation of Barth is perfectly true for Bultmann, but it is absurd to say that “what actually happened in the past is of little to no ultimate significance” for Barth. That would undermine the entirety of Barth’s theological shift to God’s agency (against natural theology, apologetics, historical criticism, etc.). I really can’t think of a better example of where Van Til’s Kantian-existentialist reading of Barth is so demonstrably false.

Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Hi Kevin,

I think you may be confusing providence with inspiration. The difference between the two is, really, all the theological difference in the world! Even so, I would take issue with your read of Barth’s doctrine of providence, creation, and reconciliation. Not to mention the Virgin Birth. Remember, revelation, like creation and reconciliation, cannot be understood in a traditional-theological fashion. These too are recast along Christological lines. Creation is affirmed in Barth only in so far as he understands it as the act of God in Jesus Christ. Who is the creature, for Barth? The creature is Jesus Christ, in his eternal act in the life of God – the creator. Creation, as we know it and have traditional conceived if it, is rejected as having any real theological significance. Same thing with humanity. True man precedes Adam. True man is Jesus Christ. This Christo-monistic approach is consistent throughout.

John Stebbe

8 years ago

Kevin and Jim, I would like to thank you both for sticking with this discussion. I am learning a lot from both of you. Reminds me of Proverbs 18:17.

Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Just a follow-up question for Kevin. Does Barth teach that God reveals Christ in his once and for all redemptive-historical work to us? If so, how?

John Stebbe

8 years ago

Kevin seems to be saying that Barth was much closer to being a biblical exegete than a philosopher.

Jim seems to be saying that Barth’s philosophy, and his view of Scripture, would preclude him from being acceptable as a Bible teacher to true Christians.

I have not read CD. My knowledge of Barth is from secondary sources. But I will still ask the question: Maybe both are true, but in a contradictory sense. Maybe on the one hand, Barth really did exegete Scripture in a helpful way at times. And perhaps on the other hand, his philosophical views were at odds with the Scripture he tried to exegete.

I heard R. C. Sproul once comment that Barth was charged with teaching universalism, but Barth denied teaching this. Sproul said that the conclusion of universalism was unavoidable, given Barth’s view of salvation. Barth could deny it all he wanted to, but if words have meaning, Barth was a universalist, according to Sproul. Maybe the issue of universalism is a microcosm of all of Barth’s thinking. Maybe both Jim and Kevin are accurately representing aspects of Barth’s thinking, and the two sides of Barth we see in this discussion are simply contradictory.

Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

John,

You might find this post helpful over at my blog:

http://historiasalutis.com/2011/11/08/the-apokatastasis-and-karl-barth/

It seeks to explain why Barth denied the apokatastasis. You will notice that the reason why he denies universalism is on a different theological ground (i.e., the Freedom of God) from the theological ground for his doctrine of salvation (one Word, and all are saved). Remember, Barth is not necessarily interested in forming a consistent and perfectly coherent system.

Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Just one more thing on what you said above . . . .

Barth IS a biblical exegete. No one denies that, least of all me. Barth has what we might term a high view of Scripture. It is the first among the witnesses to revelation. However, when one reads, for instance, his commentary on Romans or his exegesis of Genesis in CD III, it is clear that he has brought a certain modern assumption to the table. Furthermore, for Barth, the Bible serves as a helpful guild to theology, but at the end of the day we do not ground our theology on the Bible. Rather, we ground it on the revelation of God in the event of Jesus Christ. This is why he can deny clearly biblical doctrines like the sinlessness of Christ, the Covenant of Works, the eternal differentiation of humanity in terms of their separate and distinct final destinations, the personality of the three members of the Trinity, union with Christ as the actual application of the benefits of Christ’s redemption to the believer in his real-time life, etc. The final arbiter of theology is his very modern notion of Christology, and not the biblical text.

Kevin Davis

8 years ago

Jim,

Creation as independent, as autonomous, is without “real theological significance” insofar as this is deemed impossible (in the “not yet” of Barth’s eschatological dialectic). This gives the creature “in Christ” all the real theological significance he needs! Remember, Barth’s note is resolutely triumphant. He would have scarcely praised Mozart’s joy in creation, if he were ultimately a nominalist even in regard to man. Creation is the form of the covenant (the entirety of his third volume, III.1 to III.4, is built on this theme), which would make no sense on your reading of Barth.

And, I’m obviously going to take objection to most of your list: that Barth denied the sinlessness of Christ, the persons of the Trinity, sanctification, etc. But, that would take us too far afield, and I really don’t have the time since I have several class papers I should be working on! On the topic at hand, here’s a quote from Barth’s lectures on the Reformed confessions:

“The seriousness and the ready acceptance with which the confessional commitment could become authoritative in the earliest period [before Pietism and Liberalism] were based on the fact that in this period one still knew that faith is an objective thing, not an arbitrary act at the individual’s discretion, and thus it is a public affair. With all seriousness it counts on the fact that the center of the religious question lies in the counsels of God, the Lord of the world and of history, and not in the sentiment, the heart, or the conscience of the person who believes.”

It’s hard to find a better encapsulation of Barth than that. On Jim’s reading (or Van Til’s), this objectivity is completely undermined: “the Lord of the world and of history” is made null and void because his philosophy (German Idealism) wouldn’t allow it. It’s hard for me to not get really upset at such a massive disservice to Barth’s whole lifework. In response to your follow-up question, you can fairly well guess my answer: yes, for Barth, Christ is revealed to us. How? In Scripture, and received through the proclamation of this Word. The Church can trust the providence of God as security enough for the sufficiency of his chosen means (Scripture and the Sacraments). Inerrancy is not required for the receiving of God’s revelation, but a completely arbitrary (non-governed) assemblage of texts is not sufficient either. After all, there is such a thing as prophetic and apostolic authority for Barth, and this authority is taken with the utmost seriousness, as the only finally authoritative standard, which is why Barth was accused of fundamentalism by his liberal colleagues.

John,

Yes, you get the gist of our dispute: “Kevin seems to be saying that Barth was much closer to being a biblical exegete than a philosopher.” I hate to throw around the “consensus” card, but my reading is basically the consensus among Barth scholars outside of Westminster Seminary. Even Bruce McCormack, with his highly dubious interpretation of Barth’s relationship to philosophy, would acknowledge Barth’s use of the Bible as finally authoritative and the real source of all his dogmatic moves in the CD. Though, I’m not sure that McCormack himself is really clear on this point (because, once again, he misunderstands Barth’s use of Idealism).

John Stebbe

8 years ago

Kevin, would you say that Barth’s use of the Bible as finally authoritative was in conflict with his philosophical views of salvation, as Jim has written about?

Kevin, Jim said, “This is why he can deny clearly biblical doctrines like the sinlessness of Christ, the Covenant of Works, the eternal differentiation of humanity in terms of their separate and distinct final destinations, the personality of the three members of the Trinity, union with Christ as the actual application of the benefits of Christ’s redemption to the believer in his real-time life, etc.”

Kevin, do you agree that Barth denied all those things which Jim listed?

Also, a note for the Webmaster (Camden?) On my iPhone, when I view this web page, the comments will not display. I see the link “20 comments” and I click on it, and then the arrow moves so that it points down, presumably to the comments below. But the comments never show up. You see a large blank swath of web page background, but not the comments themselves. Thanks for checking this out.

Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Hi Kevin,

Well, I think it may be time for us to simply agree to disagree here. Though I for one think you are trying to claim Barth for the cause of the Reformed faith, something even Barth himself would deny – if you are interpreting the Reformed faith in a historical sense. I think your attempt becomes most clear when you say that Christ is revealed in Scripture. For Barth, he is not. Scripture is not revelation. To say otherwise is actually to do the man a disservice. I’m trying to interpret Barth on his own terms, you are trying to squeeze him into an orthodox mold. Why? Can’t you simply let Barth be Barth?

Kevin Davis

8 years ago

John,

I deny that Barth had “philosophical views of salvation.” He had exegetical views of salvation. I don’t agree with his universalism (quasi-universalism). Why? Because I think he misreads Paul, not because I think he’s a closet Hegelian.

Barth did not deny the sinlessness of Christ (which I can easily prove), the persons of the Trinity, and sanctification. These are massive topics in their own right: “in the likeness of sinful flesh” versus actual sin, whether “modes” is used by Barth in the way that modalism speaks, and how our life is hidden in Christ as a part of Barth’s overall polemic against pietism. Barth was perhaps ambiguous on the sinlessness of Christ in his early work, Der Romerbrief, but he explicitly affirms the sinlessness of Christ in CD I.2, p. 152. Barth could not have been more clear that Jesus did not sin.

Barth does, however, deny the covenant of works (but not all of the implications thereby) and he refused to make a definitive judgment on “eternal differentiation” because he had an open eschatology (per God’s freedom) — on both issues, I follow Turretin more than Barth.

Jim,

Yes, we’ll agree to disagree. You think I’m making him into an orthodox mold, and I think you are making him into an existentialist mold. As for Scripture, Barth believed that our knowledge of Christ is mediated through Scripture and circumscribed by Scripture, without Scripture itself being Christ (the revelation). That’s the distinction I’ve consistently maintained. So, yes actually, Christ is revealed in Scripture for Barth. He didn’t get his Christology from the Bhagavad Gita.

Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

Actually, Kevin, if you look at the page before (p. 151) and before that in the same volume p. 40, you will see that Barth teaches Christ took to himself sinful, fallen flesh. You are correct to say that Barth teaches Jesus did not commit any actual sin, but he does also teach that the flesh Christ took was itself sinful. Thus for Barth there is no absolute impeccability in Christ.

I also think you have missed the meaning of Barth’s doctrine of the Virgin Birth. Remember, the virgin Birth for Barth is not a necessary dogma (CD I/2, p. 202). In fact, it is not the dogma itself, but simply a witness to the dogma-mystery of the miracle of Christmas. Christmas, therefore, is not the Virgin Birth itself. But the latter is a sign of the former, which alone is the revelation of God. So, you are correct, Barth affirms the Virgin Birth. But he does not affirm it in the way the tradition has affirmed it. Remember, Kevin, nothing in Barth’s dogmatic program goes unchanged. It is all radically reconceptualized. That is not to try to make Barth into an existentialist. I don’t think he is that. It is not to make him a Hegelian, even though he himself said he was “fond of doing a little Hegeling.” My argument is that he doesn’t fit into any of those molds. He is himself his own mold. Barthianism is its own, unique creature. Though it does fall in the general family tree of modernism, and not at all in the family tree of orthodoxy.

Kevin Davis

8 years ago

Yeah, we’ll have to stop or else this discussion could go on forever. But, it’s been fun and helpful to go over all of this stuff.

I will say that the fallen (sinful) flesh of Christ is something that I happily affirm, and I think it’s a necessary implication of the Incarnation and Substitutionary Atonement. “He became sin who knew no sin.” This is the full scope of the Son’s entry into a fallen world, not as some Superman striding along the earth. In fact, the temptations of Christ would make no sense if Christ did not take on a fallen and cursed flesh: Christ was actually tempted (“as we are”) and feared the taking of the Father’s cup.

Jim Cassidy

8 years ago

You’re right Kevin, we should stop here. Yet!

You know I can’t let that last comment just go!

In response I have several thoughts to bounce off you.

1. Know that the belief that Christ took to himself fallen, sinful flesh is across the board rejected in the Reformed tradition. The closest you get is Hodge who says that Christ was able to sin, even though he had a sinless humanity. But even that is an aberrant view in history of Reformed theology.

2. With regard to the temptations of Christ. As the second Adam, Christ was tempted, yet resisted. This is unlike the first Adam who was tempted yet sinned, forsaking all the eschatological blessings of the Covenant of Works. But the first Adam, like the second Adam, was created good and without sin. Yet, he was tempted. So why would the temptation of the second Adam make no sense if he had a sinless humanity? After all, the first Adam was sinless and he was tempted.

3. I think your read of 2 Cor 5:21 is dubious, at best. Without going into the particulars, the history of Reformed theology has tended to read that verse in light the Isaiah prophecies of the suffering servant who has the iniquity of us all laid upon him. This is the first aspect of double imputation. Therefore, the sinfulness which Jesus becomes is first an imputed, reckoned sinfulness, not a substantial or ontological one received at his incarnation. 2 Cor 5:21 is then a locus classicus of the doctrine of double imputation in the Reformed tradition.

Kevin Davis

8 years ago

I’ll grant your second point. Of course, since we both believe that Jesus was incapable of sinning, we probably aren’t that far apart if we actually parsed what we meant by our terms.

Bill

8 years ago

I believe the key question we need to ask is where does Karl Barth stand with regard to the 5 solas of the Reformation? We need to test Barth’s theology and see if passes the test of sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli deo gloria. I personally believe it does, Barth was an advocate of the 5 solas, and there is a strong continuity between Barth and the Reformation. Barth was essentially Reformed, but he lived 500 years after the Protestant Reformation, and he has incorporated modern views that do not invalidate the protestant reformation in my opinion.

C T Hall

8 years ago

I’m new to Karl Barth; how did he view the Trinity?

Bobby Grow

7 years ago

Good job, Kevin! I think a good reading of Barth’s “The Theology of the Reformed Confessions” would take Cassidy along way.

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